Opposition Official Jailed in Oddar Meanchey for Plotting

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Candlelight Party workers put up party billboards in Kampong Thom province on November 15, 2021. (Candlelight Party’s Facebook page)
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A former CNRP official was arrested in Oddar Meanchey province as he was increasing his involvement with the Candlelight Party, his wife and party officials said.

The Candlelight Party is a renamed continuation of the Sam Rainsy Party, which merged to form the CNRP in 2012. After the CNRP was banned in 2017, the Candlelight Party continued, including holding a congress last month.

Phorn Sophoeun said her husband, Sok Vil, had been a district-level official for CNRP. He had recently become involved with the Candlelight Party, she said.

On Wednesday morning around 8 a.m., she was on a motorbike with Vil and their grandchild, returning home from the market, when authorities stopped them and handcuffed Vil, she said.

“The grandchildren are crying after he disappeared because their parents are working in Thailand,” Sophoeun said.

The Candlelight Party’s interim Oddar Meanchey chair Sin Vutha said CPP officials had frequently tried to persuade Vil to join the ruling party.

Authorities knew Vil was attending gatherings with the Candlelight Party and preparing to join the party, Vutha said.

Vil was arrested for plotting in relation to supporting an attempt by Rainsy, who lives in exile in France, to return to Cambodia in 2019, Vutha added.

Thach Setha, the party’s acting chairman, described the arrests as a threat to the political activities of the Candlelight Party, but said its activists were not deterred.

“Other activists don’t seem scared or frightened, because we are acting legally and they are committed,” Setha said.

Oddar Meanchey provincial police chief Huot Sothy declined to comment, saying the arrest was not carried out by his team. Chongkal district police chief Rin Thearith said military police were in charge of the case. Provincial military police officials and provincial prosecutor So Sopheak could not be reached for comment.

Sam Kuntheamy, director of elections NGO Nicfec, said the arrests of political activists was a constitutional violation.

“Activists have the right to participate in politics. The government should stop threatening them, stop intimidating them,” he said. “If the election sees threats, it will affect the election process and the results.”

Mass trials are currently underway at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for supporters of Rainsy’s return involving more than 100 defendants. According to Human Rights Watch, dozens of political prisoners remain in Cambodia’s jails.

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